Both the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders find themselves playing a critical game earlier than usual having lost their season openers one week ago. Neither team wants to fall into a 0-2 hole, so the intensity of tomorrow’s contest at Sun Life Stadium will be high.
Most of Oakland’s players still have fresh in their minds last year’s humiliating 34-14 defeat in Miami at the hands of the Dolphins in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score made it appear. In fact, the Dolphins have won the last three meetings by a combined score of 94-46 (33-17 at Oakland in 2010 and 17-15 at Miami in 2008).
The Raiders are coming off a tough loss at home to the San Diego Chargers in the second Monday night game, so it’s a short week coupled with a cross-country flight across three time zones. They will be wearing their black jerseys for the 1 p.m. kickoff, which will make things even hotter, and sporting a pretty full injury list.
For Miami, two of their regulars – running back Daniel Thomas
(concussion) and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel
(knee) – are officially out for the game. Wide receiver Anthony Armstrong
(hamstring) is listed as doubtful. Five Things To Watch: 1. Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin versus Raiders head coach Dennis Allen:
Both of these men are in their first year as NFL head coaches and are looking to establish their identity. Philbin is looking to rebound from last week’s 30-10 loss to the Houston Texans during which he saw his rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill
, throw three interceptions. But he also saw Tannehill not get flustered and make some impressive throws, while running back Reggie Bush
averaged just less than five yards per carry. His defense kept Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster at bay and his special teams looked sharp. Allen is the first Raiders coach not to be directly hired by the late Al Davis and is the franchise’s 18th head coach. The former defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos is familiar with the Raiders having game planned against them in the AFC West and is being asked to turn the franchise around by new general manager Reggie MacKenzie. Allen replaces the fired Hue Jackson and is the first defensive minded head coach for Oakland since Hall-of-Famer John Madden. 2. Who will win the special teams battle:
Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter
and punter Brandon Fields
have consistently been among the league’s best at their respective positions for the past few seasons, but they will be trying to keep pace with arguably the best punter-kicker duo in Oakland’s Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski. Even though the last two games were decided by more than two touchdowns, field position will play a big role in the outcome on Sunday, and it could come down to a made or missed field goal. Miami’s only touchdown last week came courtesy of a 72-yard punt return by rookie Marcus Thigpen
, but the Raiders’ Jacoby Ford is capable of changing momentum as well. He proved that two years ago against the Dolphins when he returned the opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, so this third phase of the game could end being the most important. 3. Which all-purpose running back will shine brighter, Miami’s Reggie Bush or Oakland’s Darren McFadden:
The answers each head coach gave when asked about the opponent’s top running back were similar this week because Bush and McFadden are similar. Both are dangerous outside the tackles and inside as well as receivers out of the backfield or split wide off the line of scrimmage. But McFadden did not play in last year’s game and the year before on his home field he was held to just 2 yards on 8 carries by the Dolphins, so this is not his favorite defense to play against. Bush’s streak of five consecutive 100-yard games to end the end the 2011 season started against Oakland in that December 4th victory when he rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. 4. Oakland’s defensive tackle Richard Seymour versus Miami’s center Mike Pouncey and left guard Richie Incognito:
Seymour has been giving Miami offensive coordinators and offensive line coaches headaches for 12 years, the first eight when he was with the AFC East rival New England Patriots. At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds he has the long arms to knock down passes at the line and get inside leverage when he’s rushing the quarterback, but he also has quick enough feet to shed in-line blockers against the run. Pouncey is one of the few centers in the NFL with the athleticism to handle a player of Seymour’s caliber and Incognito’s low center of gravity and solid upper body strength are good matches for the taller and very strong Seymour. These are one of those battles in the trenches worth watching up close. 5. Can wide receiver Davone Bess continue to be a difference maker against the team he grew up rooting for:
As a kid growing up in Oakland, Bess could see the Oakland Coliseum from his driveway and was a rabid Raiders fan. Since he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins in 2008 he has gone 3-0 against his hometown team and done plenty of damage individually, catching 13 passes for 208 yards (an average of 16.0 yards per catch). In a 17-15 win in Miami in 2008, Bess caught three passes for 50 yards, including a 27-yarder late in the fourth quarter that helped set up Dan Carpenter’s game-winning 38-yard field goal. Two years later in front of friends and family in Oakland, Bess caught six passes for 111 yards and returned three punts for 60 yards, including a 47-yarder in a convincing 33-17 win for the Dolphins. And in last year’s rout he caught a 12-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and had a 21-yard punt return.